As we marked International Refugee Day this summer, many paused to reflect on the state of our world today—where families are forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.
In Syria, half of the country’s pre-war population, more than 11 million people, have been killed or forced to flee their homes—largely finding refuge in neighboring countries.
Intessar, a 37 year-old woman and single-mother of five, had to flee Syria with her children as violence intensified in her home country. To escape, she and her family had to walk from Syria to Jordan along the Yarmouk River. Families tend to make their journey on foot during the night to avoid being shot by snipers or being caught by soldiers.
When Intessar was asked if she could envision a future in Jordan, she replied, “Yes, because there is no hope to go back to in Syria.”
While immediate humanitarian aid is important, NEF remains focused on implementing innovative and cost-effective solutions in Jordan and Lebanon to help refugees survive in the short term, and thrive in the long term—enabling them to meet their own needs with dignity and to become productive members of their new communities. NEF does this through skills trainings to encourage economic opportunity, financial literacy, social networking, cash-assistance grants, and training in urban agriculture so that families can become food secure.
Living in Zarqa with her children, Intessar was struggling to provide for her family. Through a local community-based organization she found out about NEF’s program that provides opportunities to reduce negative coping strategies among poor, vulnerable, urban Syrian refugees and Jordanians through business trainings, financial literacy, and start-up grants.
Through NEF’s program and a project grant, Intessar was able to set up a small clothing shop and start earning an income to support her family. She said that the best part of the program was “meeting and learning from other women in similar situations.” She is now able to enroll her children in school, and is taking a course in English herself so that she can continue to develop her network.
With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Intessar and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!
Like many of the other women, Toma spoke candidly about the events that led her to enroll in NEF UK’s Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence (AGERS-GBV) program. “My life has been hard,” she recalls. “I suffered for a long time.”
Toma, a 40-year-old single mother to a young boy, endured abuse from her husband for more than a decade before escaping and seeking refuge in her parents’ home with her son.
Domestic violence against women is commonplace in Armenia, where 59 percent of women report being subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence at the hands of their domestic partners. It is only fairly recently that this widespread issue has entered public discourse as a real and growing problem.
To make matters more difficult, women are not encouraged to work independently and earn an income. Ruzanna Torozyan, director of the Goris Women’s Development Resource Center in Armenia, said, “Men are usually not comfortable with their wives entering the workforce due to social norms that discourage female independence. As a result, the social burden of raising a family falls mostly to women—many of whom struggle to meet household expenses independently from male support.”
Without a job and income to support her son, Toma sought psychological and legal support from the Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Yerevan on the advice of a friend. There, Toma heard about NEF UK’s European Union-funded AGERS-GBV program, which equips survivors with the knowledge, skills, and support structures they need to start their own small businesses or find sustained employment.
“I knew self-employment was better suited to my situation, but I didn’t know how to make it a reality,” Toma explained.
Toma saw the program as an opportunity to become self-reliant, and applied to enrol in the business development component. Through the trainings, she was taught the skills needed to plan, organize, and manage a small business.
“For years, I considered opening up my own shoe business, but the project helped me to transform my idea into action. The other women in the program and I welcomed the opportunity to work with the enterprise development team, and appreciated their inclusive and interactive approach to training.”
Working with the program's business development trainer, Toma developed a viable business plan and finance strategy that was approved by a selection committee. With a project-supported grant secured, Toma purchased materials for 40 shoes, which she quickly transformed into 16 pairs of women’s shoes just in time for the Armenian winter. Toma plans to use her remaining materials to get a head start on a spring line of shoes.
“I love my job. It provides me with the flexibility I need to make an economically sustainable living for my son and me. I feel at peace, and I am highly motivated to move ahead with my plans for the future—whateverI decide those will be.’’
NEF UK’s program was internationally recognized by the European Training Foundation (ETF) with a certificate of excellence for demonstrating good practice in implementing trainings for women’s entrepreneurship. ETF created a video to highlight the programs success in developing economic opportunities for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. Click here to watch.
To date, 161 women survivors across Yerevan and Lori and Syunik regions have signed up to participate in the business development stream and 131 of those women have developed business plans. Fifty-one women have already received funding to support their small businesses and the remaining 80 women will receive funding in the near future. Additionally, 116 women have enrolled in the employment development trainings where they are learning valuable skills needed to meet employer qualifications.
Thank you for your continued support making stories like Toma's possible!
For more information, visit: www.neareast.org
NEF-UK’s AGERS-GBV project is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). For more information, please contact: Arpine Baghdoyan (+374 98022475; email@example.com)
 Some names have been changed in this publication to protect the privacy and security of the individuals involved.
As the Syrian crisis enters its fifth year, millions of refugees continue to seek safety and a better future for their families in Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees and in Lebanon, Syrian refugees now constitute 25 percent of the population.
Out of necessity, women in many conflict and post-conflict areas find themselves as earners for the first time in order to support their families.
Take Fattoum, a 35-year-old woman who fled Syria with her family to Lebanon. “We left everything behind, we came here with nothing.” Her husband does not have a job, and together they have four children—one with cancer.
“Putting a meal on the table is a continuous challenge, the amount of money we spend on rent and medicine leaves us almost nothing for food.”
With NEF’s help, Fattoum is receiving training in small home-based business development and urban agriculture so that she can grow fruits and vegetables at home.
“I am an illiterate Syrian refugee woman. This program empowers me as a woman to become more productive and self-reliant. Our living situation is in dire need of such projects to lift us out of the extremely bad situations we are facing.”
“Growing vegetables at home will help us save some money that can be spent on other things like medicine. NEF’s trainings will help me stand on my feet.”
Women’s participation in the labor market continues to be necessary for helping reduce poverty and drive the economy as a whole. NEF assists Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and vulnerable members of their host communities, to achieve self-reliance through urban agriculture, small business development trainings, peer support networks, and savings and loan associations.
“NEF’s trainings provide us with a platform to meet new Syrian and Lebanese woman. The program gives us hope that we can provide a better life for our family.”
With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Fattoum and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!